IT TAKES TWO TO TWIN
Sisters live together, work together and can’t imagine life without each other.
Written by Marlee Septak and Jordan Zeman
It’s late on a Sunday morning in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood, and Catherine Satrun is drying dishes in her kitchen, chatting with her twin sister, Sarah, who’s nearby in the dining room. The 33-year-olds share an apartment–and a career. Their living room doubles as a studio space, where they collaborate on illustrations and other creative projects.
Their drawings, which Catherine describes as “feminine, sometimes delicate, other times bold,” are playful, and rich with color and texture.
The twins’ website, Sketchy Duo, is filled with images of female superheroes, mermaids, monsters and princesses. From a fairy standing with her arms outstretched in a sphere in an imitation of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, to women of all races, sizes, shapes and capacities dressed as Wonder Woman declaring that, “We are all Wonder Women,” the twin’s work carries a positive message. “I’m trying to do happy things. I want to be inspiring,” says Catherine.
Their cartoons are growing in popularity with moms and children. During their first year attending C2E2 in 2013, the twins sold out their print pieces on the first day. The drawing entitled “We Are All Wonder Women” was especially popular at the convention. It differed from the familiar depiction of sexy illustrations that tend to objectify women in animation.
“We got that niche,” says Sarah about their kinds fans. “We had all women. They were always at our table because we are different. Everybody else had things they wouldn’t want their kids looking at–women with really shapely and curvy, pin-up-type bodies, and we had very kid-friendly and positive-type images.”
The twins both enjoyed drawing early on and knew they wanted to make a career out of it. But growing up in a tight-knit family with their younger sister Megan on a farm in Frankfort, Illinois, the pair had concerns about the practicality of cartooning. “Our parents knew we were going to be artists. There was no doubt about it. It was just a matter of, you know, how do you make a living and get paid to draw?” asks Sarah.
The two ended up at Joliet Junior College, and after finishing with associate’s degrees in arts in 2002, they transferred to Columbia College Chicago in 2005 where they received bachelor’s degrees in arts and film. After graduation the sisters took small jobs that didn’t pay much, but after a while, they found more serious work and remained a team.
Other than working on illustrations from home, they freelance for Calabash Animation, doing side work and small personal projects. “Sarah and Catherine function as a unique team [because] their style and thought process is similar enough that they are able to work on the same animation scene without any perceptible visual difference,” says Diane Grider, production manager at Calabash Animation.
The twins’ work is not limited to hand drawings and digital animation. The two also collaborated visually with musician Linda Smith on her album, “Mearra~Selkie From the Sea,”creating moving animations for a projection shown at Smith’s release show. “These two women are brilliant artists,” says Smith. “Their commitment, excitement and enthusiasm to working on Mearra was more than I could have asked for.” Smith was impressed with the sense of welcome she received from the sisters, as well as their dedication to the project.
Sarah admits that, because of the size and intensity of the work for the Mearra project, she was very grateful to have Catherine. “We can’t really survive on these kinds of commissions with only one,” says Sarah. “You need a team.”
The sisters take on larger projects together and work seamlessly but can also make distinct marks on individual work. Catherine says one of the differences between her and her sister’s drawings are the brush strokes. While Sarah uses long, sweeping lines, Catherine does not, instead taking inspiration from Glen Keane, the artist of Disney’s “Tarzan” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
“It’s hard to do different styles when you like the same thing,” concedes Sarah. “I need to do what I want to do, not just something to be different.”
Although Sarah and Catherine are practically inseparable, there certainly are some differences. “We’re fraternal, but a lot of people who don’t know us think we are identical because we are so close,” says Sarah. “It all depends on how observant someone is.”
Growing up, Sarah was into “Sweet Valley High” while Catherine was reading “Nancy Drew,” and both were always busily sketching. Any outward differences now are only slightly noticeable. Sarah laughs when she talks about getting her hair colored with her sister. “Even though we like the exact same things–we can’t really help it–we try to get slightly different colors and that kind of thing.”
As noon rolls around in the sisters’ shared home, Edith Piaf begins to play from computer speakers. The twins get ready to head out to do a few errands–together, as always. “I don’t know what it’s like not to be a twin, but I think I would be miserable,” Catherine says.